WAY OF WATER
One of the most
commonly used metaphors within
Daoism and Daoist martial arts is that of "being like water."
But what could be meant by this? What is water really like?
let's look at the Peng strength of Taijiquan. The Taiji
Classics tell us that Peng is like "water that supports a
moving boat." As well as Peng being the name of a specific
upwards deflecting action, Peng strength is meant to be present
throughout the whole of our Taiji practice. Apparently, one
of Taijiquan's earlier names was Pengquan.
is said that water can
support the weight of a small leaf or a mighty ship, but it
always knows how much force to use. In this respect, using
Peng strength refers to the even distribution of pressure
or force. Rather than using localised strength just around
a specific point of contact, we should make our bodies bear
the load of any hostile force evenly. Our bodies should be
rather like a water-filled balloon. Any pressure applied to
the outside should condense the contents evenly, and if the
pressure inside exceeds the pressure outside, the outside
object will be bounced back. Needless to say, we should also
aim to be rooted during our Taiji practice, so we shouldn't
just roll away. The purpose of using Peng strength is to use
intelligent and adaptable strength, rather than simple brute
Chen style classics also tell us that we should "advance
like water," seeping into any gaps that might appear in an
opponent's defenses. Generally in Taijiquan we are told to
"move like a river." Some say we should move "like a flowing
river," others say "like a mighty river" or "like a surging
river." Individual teachers might emphasise different aspects
of the river metaphor, to best suit the needs of the point
they are making. Perhaps it needs to be understood that the
mighty Yangtse is not quite the same thing as a babbling English
brook, or perhaps it does not matter so much. Perhaps scale
is not as important as the nature of water itself.
is often supposed that
water is almost infinitely soft, always adapting and simply
flowing around any obstacle. As such the metaphor is often
sited by Taiji practitioners who wish to emphasise the need
for softness within Taiji practice. While the need for softness
might be perfectly correct, it is still only half the story.
To really understand what it means to be like a river, we
need to think back to our Peng strength analogy.
you were to stand facing upstream in a river that came
up to our chest, in addition to the water that you could feel
flowing around you, you would also feel a degree of pressure
building up against your front. Depending on the force of
the river, you may or may not be able to remain standing.
Again, that is not all that important, it is all simply a
matter of scale. While you might not be able to hold your
footing in this particular river, a horse or an elephant might.
course, no examination of water as metaphor within
Daoist martial practice would be complete without examining
Xingyiquan's Zuanquan (drilling fist), associated with the
elemental phase of Water. This technique clearly shows a more
overtly aggressive side to the nature of water as the fist
"shoots out forcefully like a water spout." The punch follows
a fairly straight oblique drilling line, but as the technique
accelerates towards its zenith in conjunction with a straight
forwards advancing jump step, the actual path of the strike
is usually slightly curved. While some stylists deliberately
make the technique follow a curved path, I prefer to think
of the fist as setting out with a spiralling straight line
intention, rather like a spinning bullet. If my "spiralling
water spout" encounters an obstacle along the way, it will
to a varying degree defect and / or be deflected by that object,
depending on the relative strength of the two forces.
article on the use of
the Large Saber by Glen Gurman in issue 6/2 of the Pa Kua
Chang (Baguazhang) Journal contains an all important phrase:
river cuts the stone, but the stone shapes the course of the
river cuts a channel for itself
through the land, and in turn, the land shapes the course
of the river. On a massive scale, all along the river's journey,
little contests of relative Peng strength are being played
out, minute after minute, day after day. And what the river
cannot erode today, it will keep banging away at, slowly,
gradually making an impact wherever it is strong enough to
do so. The Dao Dejing tells us that ultimately the softest
thing in the world will overcome the hardest. Let's just remember
that there's nothing "weak" about water.